Scotland got their 2017 Six Nations campaign off to the perfect start with a victory over the Irish at Murrayfield. Duncan Smith looks back at the lessons learned from the thrilling encounter.
It was a Humph day
Jonathan Humphreys, the unassuming Welshman in charge of the pack, normally prefers to keep low-key working away in the background but he was pushed front and centre by his head coach Vern Cotter, who credited him with two key aspects of Saturday’s game which contributed greatly to Scotland’s victory. Firstly, it was Humphreys who swiftly identified what was going wrong in the scrum, which got an early monstering by the Irish and had Scottish fans fearing the worst. Young inexperienced props Allan Dell and Zander Fagerson were told to make alterations to their angles and the ship was steadied. Secondly, it was Humphreys who devised the clever lineout ploy which bamboozled the Irish and saw Alex Dunbar score the crucial third try.
Scrum still a worry
For all that things got better on Saturday, the front row will have to be on the money from the start in Paris on Sunday as the rot may be much harder to stop against the French, who will have noted the Scots’ struggles and be planning a huge set-piece assault in the Stade de France.
Finn can only get better
Stand-off Finn Russell did a lot of excellent things on Saturday. His passes were zippy and he brought his usual tempo and sense of adventure, with some clever kicking too. However, he will be the first to admit that a few things didn’t come off and he was lucky that Ireland did not fully exploit some of the errors made. The conundrum is that just comes with the package when it comes to Russell and you don’t want to stifle his natural game, though maybe the riskiness should be reined in a tad.
We have live Lions contenders
Warren Gatland was in attendance at BT Murrayfield and who knows how many, if any, Scotland players who weren’t already on his radar for the Lions tour to New Zealand thrust their way into his thoughts. Man-of-the-match Stuart Hogg surely just deepened the shade of ink of his name on the Test team-sheet, while Jonny Gray and his brother Richie must have impressed. A lot of water remains to travel under the bridge but a number of players must have made an early impression they can now look to build on and hopefully boost that Scottish contingent as much as possible.
Ireland are still contenders
To the victors the spoils, but in the new world of bonus-point Six Nations, the loser needn’t go home empty-handed. For all their disappointment at losing to opposition they have become accustomed to beating regularly, that losing bonus point may yet prove crucial for the Irish. The way they responded to that poor first half at Murrayfield with 17 unanswered points was a reminder of what a formidable unit they are with a bit of momentum, and Scotland had to fight tooth and nail to repel the onslaught. Ireland face Italy next, with the Azzurri sure to reap a backlash from the men in green. Joe Schmidt’s men will probably still be there in the mix at the end. Then again, whisper it, but so too could Scotland.